Three student makers with robots at Maker Faire Kuwait

A sand sculpture of a mosque, a beach cleaning robot, an underwater robot for monitoring oil spills in the ocean, wooden models of the traditional sailing boat known as a dhow, a proof of concept for an air conditioner that uses ceramic tiles to reduce the amount of electricity used to cool hot air (kindaishin meaning air conditioning), wooden bowls turned from locally recycled wood, an idea for a factory that would use a pyrolytic process to turn old tires into synthetic oil -essentially a distilling process, a cheap sensor for detecting ethanol vapor – an air pollutant, a skateboard designed for riding over sand, an app to route school buses and inform parents that their children have been safely picked up, a large clock powered by water whose hands moved counterclockwise, rings made from amber, a bear sculpture created with a chainsaw, a custom wide-frame tricycle, a dragon made from green balloons, a wooden rocking chair with seats for children on the side, a small sculpture made of metal pipe of a figure in a seated position with an Edison light bulb as a head, one man’s home machine shop filled with vintage equipment bought online from Cleveland, Ohio.

Pipe Sculpture with Edison Light Bulb from Maker Faire Kuwait

These are some of the projects that stood out for me at Maker Faire Kuwait, held at the Kuwait Exhibition Center in February 2018. So many of them seemed unique to the location and culture of Kuwait – a land made of sun, sand and wind on the Arabian Gulf. Yet what I walked away with, what I saw looking at the photos I took, and what I remembered even weeks later after the event, were the many faces of the makers I met there, the kind, curious makers of all ages and backgrounds — from Kuwait and from Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. The people, even more than the projects, stood out for me. In their faces, I could see the pride and passion they had for making — for sharing what they do with others who cared.

One woman I interviewed told me her name was Maysoon. I asked her what her name meant in Arabic. She said her name meant “always smiling,” which indeed perfectly described her. There were many like Maysoon at Maker Faire Kuwait, which I share through this video slideshow of my photos:

The Maker Faire Kuwait

Maker Faire Kuwait was organized by the maker movement in Kuwait for the community, with partnership with Kuwait Investment Company (KIC) and the cooperation of the government. It was held from February 6 to 10.

The organizer of the event was Ahmad Alsaleh, a Kuwaiti entrepreneur who runs a company called Creative Bits and leads an education program called Maker Academy. Alsaleh did the community-building work that was the source of the creative energy at Maker Faire Kuwait. His partner was Nassr Hayawi, whom I met at World Maker Faire in New York four years ago. Nassr had to do everything, including responding to a call that a water tank (for an OpenROV demo) broke, spilling water all over. He was exuberant for the whole event.

About 35,000 people came to Maker Faire Kuwait over 5 days, including school children, families and ministers. From Tuesday through Thursday, the event was open during the day from 9 to 1pm when school children visited in groups. Each day the show closed for several hours and re-opened at 5pm and went until 9 pm, when families came to the show. On Friday, the show was open in the evening 5-9pm and then opened all day on Saturday. “I was surprised by how many people came out to the event,” said Ahmad Alsaleh.

I was impressed by the managers of Kuwait Investment Corporation who were highly engaged in the event and supportive of its mission. Hala Montague of KIC was a tremendously energetic contributor, ensuring that everything went right during Maker Faire. Hala, below, is with Kelly and Larry of Airigami who came from Rochester NY to build a large dragon from green balloons.

Larry Moss and Kelly Cheatle of Airigami surround Hala Montague of KIC

I interviewed Ahmad to learn more about organizing Maker Faire Kuwait, spreading the maker movement in the Middle East as well as the state of education and why making matters for our future.

I enjoyed meeting Ahmad, Nassr and all the makers in Kuwait. I was so glad to see the focus on organizing the community from the bottom-up. If you can get the community building right, then you are producing an event by and for that community. With the support of business and government, you can amplify the maker community and reach more and more people. That’s how you have a great Maker Faire — built from the bottom up.

Ahmad and Nassr with me at Maker Faire Kuwait

Maker Faire Kuwait also connected with other makers in the MENA region. We had a meeting to discuss the maker movement throughout the region and how to apply what can be learned from Kuwait. On February 22, Ahmad and Nassr helped to organize a Mini Maker Faire in Dubai, the first one in UAE. These all were such positive signs of a shared maker culture spreading throughout the region, which happens best when we meet face-to-face.

A Meeting of MENA Makers